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Friday, 21st June 2024

Drogheda’s Channel Chancers conquer the English Channel

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The Channel Chancers (from left): Sean Keenan,Paul Clinton, Joe Leahy, Ray Donagh and Blake Boland.

On Tuesday the 18th of June, after a year of training in the sea and pool, four local swimmers, “The Channel Chancers” relay team swam the English Channel from Folkestone to France in 10 hours and 48 minutes, the fastest relay time so far this season.

The Channel Chancers are Blake Boland, Paul Clinton, Sean Keenan, Joe Leahy and their coach Ray Donagh. This was a big dream realised for all of them.

The Channel Swim is still the most iconic swim in the open water swim world. More people climb Mount Everest than swim the channel each year. The distance is an eye watering 36 Km as the crow flies, but the Chancers swam 42.1 Km because they were being pushed by the tides and currents.

The team arrived in Folkestone on Sunday 9th June, buzzing, hoping to do their swim on Tuesday or Wednesday but the weather had other ideas with winds of up to 45 kph making it impossible to swim in those conditions.

“Our boat pilots, Harry and Fred Mardle, were very reassuring and confident that we would get a positive weather window, but we were going to have to wait patiently” said team coach Ray Donagh.

“So, we waited and waited for the winds to die down and it eventually did on Tuesday 18th June, we made our way to the harbour to board our boat with the CSA (Channel Swimming Association) observer, which took us to the start point for the swim at 6.00 am.  No wind, air temp 10 C, sea temp 13 C.  The excitement was palpable, we couldn’t wait to start our swim.”

The first swimmer in the water was Blake Boland who had to swim from the boat, get out of the sea, clamber over the rocks and stand on the shore. When the CSA observer was happy, he signalled to Blake to “Go”! Channel Swim on, let the adventure begin.

Paul would be swimmer number two followed by Sean and then Joe. Each of whom would swim exactly one hour each. First rotation of four hours completed and then repeat until arriving at the French coast.

Between swims each swimmer had three hours to recover before their next hour of swimming. Recovery was important which includes warming up and refuelling.

Thankfully there were no jellyfish of the stinging kind or any other dangerous obstacles to deal with except a rolling sea and the cold. The cold was the biggest enemy for the swimmers to deal with. Thankfully our training programme over the year swimming in Clogherhead proved to be very successful in dealing with the cold sea.

 Joe Leahy, Paul Clinton, Sean Keenan, Blake Boland.

The English Channel is a narrow channel of water and probably the busiest shipping channel in the world. It is notorious for the strength of its tides and currents and low sea temperatures all of which make the challenge much more difficult. Tides are running north south, south north, which means swimmers are swimming across the incoming and outgoing tide.  

The sea temp during the swim was between 14 C and 15 C but thankfully the team had trained all year in the sea, even during winter when the sea temp dropped to 7 C, so they were well prepared.  A typical weekly training session consisted of two sea swims in togs in all weather and sea temps plus two pool sessions to get distance swims.

The rules for a Channel Swim are laid down by the Channel Swimming Association and are strictly enforced. Swimmers are only allowed wear one thin swim hat, goggles and speedos (budgie smugglers).  For a relay each swimmer swims  one hour each until you finish. The order of the swimmers must remain the same all the way through.  Its most important that swimmers warm up and refuel before their next rotation.

“Thanks to very strong consistent swimming and the very professional boat pilots who charted the best route through all the tides and currents our first swimmer to reach France was Sean” said Ray.

“Again, the rules stipulate that the swimmer must climb out of the   sea and stand up. If the observer from CSA is happy then your swim is complete and, in our case, it was completed in the amazing time of 10 hours 48 mins. We are now certified Channel Swimmers”

“Dream realised we had swum the English Channel in an amazing time. Just one more thing to do now, all the team jumped off the boat and swam 200 M  to shore for a quick celebration and to have it to say that we all touched French soil.

“This whole adventure has been a dream of mine for many years now and to do it with such a wonderful group of friends and fellow swimmers was truly amazing” Ray continued. The human spirit never ceases to amaze you, dream big. Now for the next adventure!”

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